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Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n Digital SLR

Kodak updates their Pro 14n with a new sensor, improved processing, and greatly reduced image noise.

Review First Posted: 02/12/2004




MSRP $TBA US

 

Kodak 14n Pro Digital SLR Review

 

*
13.7 megapixel (effective) RGB-filtered CMOS sensor, delivering 4,500 x 3,000 pixel images.
*
Full-frame sensor gives focal-length multiplier of 1.0
*
ISO of 160 - 1600, in 1/3-EV steps
*
Rugged, magnesium-alloy chassis pares weight, but provides rigid frame.
* Compatible with most current Nikon F-mount lenses and accessories.
*
Greatly improved noise characteristics and power management

 

Manufacturer Overview
Kodak's new DSC-SLR/n digital SLR is a strong update to their previous Pro 14n model, with very similar specifications, but greatly improved performance in several key areas. The enhancement that will undoubtedly be the most welcome for prospective users is its greatly improved noise performance, thanks to a redesigned CMOS sensor chip, a change in fabrication provider, and a redesigned analog electronics board. At the same time, Kodak has improved the SLR/n's image processing, revamped the calibration algorithms to improve responsiveness, and improved its power management. Other SLR/n enhancements include a unique long-exposure/ultra-low ISO mode that lets you capture up to 60-second exposures at ISO 6 for exceptionally low image noise and unique time-exposure creative effects.

The net result of all these enhancements is a markedly more usable camera than the 14n, with most of that prior model's most serious limitations successfully addressed. Kodak still faces stiff competition in the full-frame d-SLR market from Canon's EOS-1Ds, but at least now they have a product that actually can compete, based on its not-insignificant merits. (And Kodak's proven track record of delivering continual enhancements and upgrades for its cameras through ongoing firmware releases holds the promise of future improvements and feature enhancements.)

But the very best news for current Pro 14n owners is that Kodak is offering an upgrade program, by which existing 14n models can be upgraded to nearly full SLR/n functionality and image quality, by swapping out the sensor and analog electronics board. Referred to as "14nx" models, the upgraded cameras will lack only the SLR/n's power management, and the slight processing speed resulting from the new model's higher processor bus speed. All other features and functions of an upgraded 14n will be identical to those of a new SLR/n.) This is unprecedented in the d-SLR world, and should give great comfort to current and future Kodak pro SLR owners. While not cheap, at a projected price of $1,495, the upgrade program is certainly a better deal than simply scrapping a current camera and buying a whole new one. (And given what I've seen of the SLR/n's improved performance, I'd say that the 14n upgrade constitutes a very worthwhile investment.)


High Points

Update Summary: SLR/n vs 14n
This review is going to look very familiar to anyone who read my earlier report on the DSC-Pro14n, since the two models use the same basic camera body. Most features and functions are thus pretty much identical between the two, so the bulk of this review is lifted directly from my earlier piece on the 14n. There are a number of differences in the LCD menu screens, but current 14n owners who've kept their cameras up to date with Kodak's firmware releases will find few if any surprises: Almost without exception, the feature and user interface enhancements that have appeared since my original review of the 14n have been included in Kodak's incremental firmware upgrades for 14n owners. The image-quality enhancements seen in the SLR/n are almost entirely the result of "behind the scenes" improvements in the sensor and analog electronics, while the mechanics of the improved power management are entirely hidden from the user's view.

Here, then, is a summary of the key changes since the original Pro 14n. For the most part I won't comment on user-interface changes that have been included in the 14n's ongoing firmware updates, but I will make mention of one or two that I consider the most significant.

 

Executive Overview

Just when many industry observers (myself included) were wondering whether Kodak could continue to compete in the professional SLR market, the company dropped a figurative bombshell on the photographic world at Photokina 2002 in the form of the DSC Pro 14n. The new camera was built upon a body provided by Nikon, but incorporated an astounding 13.7-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor. Most amazing was the $4,995 US list price, undercutting Canon's then-recently announced EOS-1Ds full-frame SLR by fully $3,000.

When production models of the 14n hit the market though, some of the initial excitement was dampened by the 14n's unfortunate problems with image noise, and the compromises in image quality that were required to deal with it. The problems were directly attributed to the CMOS sensor used in that camera, designed by the Fill Factory, and fabbed by Tower Semiconductor. While it wasn't clear whether the problem lay in the sensor design itself, in the semiconductor fabrication process, or in the design of the camera's analog electronics, the result was unquestionable: Very high levels of noise originating inn the camera's analog section required unusually heavy-handed noise-suppression processing on the digital side, with the result that much of the potential resolution of the 13.7 megapixel full-frame sensor was lost.

Whatever the root cause, Kodak has aggressively addressed the 14n's noise problems in the design of the new SLR/n model. (Tellingly, they've worked with the Fill Factory to redesign the sensor itself, have switched semiconductor fabrication providers, and have also redesigned the camera's analog circuitry, thereby addressing all three of the potential sources of image noise described above.) The net result is a significant improvement in image noise, although the test images still show the effect of analog noise levels higher than those of other digital SLR cameras.

The SLR/n has the same substantial body first seen in the 14n, similar to Nikon's high-end 35mm SLR cameras, with a hefty size and very solid feel, thanks to its magnesium-alloy body. The sensor covers the same area as a 35mm film frame (36 x 24 mm), and produces a maximum 4,500 x 3,000-pixel resolution image without interpolation, maintaining Kodak's position in the lead of the SLR pixel-count race.

A Nikon "F" lens mount accommodates most Nikkor F-series lenses, a boon to anyone who already owns a Nikon 35mm camera setup. With a Nikon-built chassis and camera electronics, the control layout will be immediately familiar to Nikon shooters. Beginning on the front of the camera, a switch next to the lens mount, sets the focus mode to Manual, Single Servo, or Continuous Servo. The SLR/n also offers an adjustable AF area, via a setting on the Exposure Mode dial. Single Area AF bases focus on one of five AF areas in the frame, selectable via the Four-Way Arrow rocker pad. Alternatively, Dynamic Area AF uses all five AF areas at once, "tracking" a moving subject as it passes in front of each area. Also on the SLR/n is an AF assist light, which helps the camera focus in dark shooting conditions. The SLR/n's digital SLR design includes an accurate optical viewfinder that incorporates a detailed information display reporting exposure settings, memory card information, and a handful of mode settings. A set of brackets on the viewfinder screen highlights the selected AF area, and a Custom menu setting enables an alignment grid for more accurate framing. (A feature I'm personally very fond of.) The SLR/n also features a 2.0-inch color LCD monitor, for image review and menu display only. - Like most digital SLRs, the LCD screen cannot be used as a "live" viewfinder. In addition to the standard image playback display, the SLR/n offers a histogram option, showing the tonal distribution of the captured image, and an overexposure indicator option "blinks" blown-out highlights to show where highlight detail has been lost. Unique to the SLR/n though, is an extended range on the histogram display, showing information that can be recovered from the file via Kodak's "ERI" (Extended Range Imaging) JPEG file format.

Exposure control on the SLR/n is quite extensive, as the camera offers a wide range of features and Custom menu settings. An Exposure Mode dial offers the usual Program AE, Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes. In Program AE mode, although the camera controls both aperture and shutter speed, you can rotate the Main Command dial to access a range of equivalent exposure settings to place emphasis on a faster shutter speed or larger depth of field. Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to two seconds, and a Bulb setting allows much longer exposures. The SLR/n also provides a special "Longer Exposure" mode that averages the results of multiple shorter exposures together to produce time exposures as long as 60 seconds, with effective ISOs as low as 6. (In this mode, the averaging process also dramatically reduces image noise.)

In aperture or shutter priority modes, the camera will display "Hi" or "Lo" in the viewfinder and on the top data readout panel if the camera can't achieve a proper exposure with the settings you've chosen. In manual mode, the camera's metering system evaluates the exposure you've chosen, and reports the amount of over- or underexposure it thinks you've specified in the viewfinder. A Depth of Field Preview button on the front of the camera stops down the lens to the selected aperture, previewing the depth of field before you take the shot.

By default, the SLR/n employs a Matrix / 3D Matrix metering system to determine exposure, depending on the lens in use. In Matrix mode, the camera divides the image area into 10 segments and meters each one individually. 3D Matrix metering applies to Nikkor D-type lenses (with a built-in CPU chip, allowing the lens to report focusing distance to the camera), and the camera not only reads brightness, but also scene contrast and subject distance to provide a more accurate exposure. Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes are also available. An exposure compensation adjustment increases or decreases exposure in one-half-step increments from -3 to +3. (A feature I'd change: Half-EV exposure adjustments are really a bit too coarse for digicams - I'd really like to see one-third EV steps. The 1/2 EV steps in the SLR/n unfortunately appear to be a limitation imposed by the Nikon body that it's built upon. - Perhaps a case of Nikon not wanting to compete too strongly with themselves?) If you're uncertain of an exposure, the SLR/n's Auto Exposure Bracketing mode takes a series of either two or three images at different exposures, bracketed around the metered setting. The camera also offers an AE Lock button, which locks exposure and/or focus independent of the Shutter button.

An interesting feature on the SLR/n is the Digital Exposure Correction option, by which the camera automatically assesses the image and makes adjustments to its tone and contrast to optimize the images. This feature only affects data in the JPEG files though, not the camera's RAW-format images. Note too, that Digital Exposure Correction doesn't correct for improper shutter speed, aperture, or ISO selections. Another option, called "Look" in the settings menu, applies a tone scale and color-management adjustment as the images are captured. Options for Look are Portrait (less saturated colors), Product (more saturated colors), Wedding (somewhat higher saturation, but natural skin tones), and Event (lots of saturation). Yet another adjustment lets you tweak the SLR/n's in-camera sharpening.

Sensitivity settings range from 160 to 1600 ISO equivalents, depending on the file format chosen. (Maximum ISO is 800 for JPEG or RAW + JPEG modes, 1600 for RAW only.) A Noise Reduction feature reduces the level of image noise from longer exposures and higher sensitivity settings, helping reduce image noise in low-light shooting conditions. In-camera noise reduction options are Normal or Strong, while the accompanying Kodak Photo Desk software offers the more advanced "Expert" mode as well. White balance options on the SLR/n include Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Flash presets, and a Click Balance (manual) setting. Within each of the presets, you have a handful of options. For example, the Daylight setting offers Standard, Warm, and Cool settings, and the Flash preset offers Standard, Warm, Cool, and Studio options. The Click Balance option analyzes the RGB values from the most recently captured image (such as a gray card), or a saved image, and applies them to the next image captured. Once selected, Click Balance provides an eyedropper over the image, letting you sample a specific part of the frame and determine the correct color balance.

The SLR/n's pop-up flash unit is rated at a guide number of 17 meters at ISO 200, translating to a maximum range of 6.1 meters (19.7 feet) at f/2.8 and ISO 200. (By my calculations, this translates to a range of roughly 5.5 meters at f/2.8 and the camera's minimum ISO of 160.) Depending on the lens being used, the internal flash offers D-TTL metering control in either 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash for Digital SLR, Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash for Digital SLR, or Standard TTL Flash for Digital SLR modes. Flash operating modes include Front-Curtain Sync, Slow Sync, Rear-Curtain Sync, Red-Eye Reduction, and Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync modes. A Flash Exposure Compensation setting adjusts flash power from -3 to +1 EV in one-half-step increments. The SLR/n also features an external flash hot-shoe with standard Nikon proprietary contacts, and a PC sync terminal for connecting more powerful flash units. Maximum flash sync speed is 1/125 second.

A Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of images as fast as 2.5 frames per second as long as the Shutter button is held down, until the SLR/n's buffer memory fills. Actual frame rates will vary somewhat, depending on the JPEG compression and image resolution settings, and the number of images in the series will depend on the amount of available buffer and card memory. (Maximum run lengths range from 18 high resolution RAW files to 20 low resolution/low quality JPEG shots before you have to wait for the buffer memory to clear. Interestingly, with a maximum burst length of 16 frames, the buffer capacity for maximum-resolution JPEG files is actually smaller than that for the RAW format.) There's also a 10-second Self-Timer mode, and the ability to record short sound clips to accompany images.

The SLR/n stores images on either CompactFlash (Type I or II) or SD/MMC cards, and is compatible with Hitachi MicroDrives. It also fully supports the FAT32 file system, for use with cards larger than 2GB. You can specify which card the camera saves images to, with the option of saving duplicate images on both cards. (An option that struck me as handy was to save RAW files to the CF card, while simultaneously saving JPEGs on the SD card.) A Job Tracker function lets you mark all images associated with a certain event, date, etc, using IPTC-standard file tags. Available resolutions are 4,500 x 3,000; 3,000 x 2,000; 2,250 x 1,500; or 1,125 x 750 pixels, with JPEG compression levels of Good, Better, and Best, and a RAW setting. To mimic common film sizes, the SLR/n features a Crop Aspect adjustment with options for 2 x 3, 4 x 5, or 2 x 2 aspect ratios.

The SLR/n connects to a computer via an IEEE-1394 FireWire cable (not included with the camera). A video cable accompanies the camera for connection to a television set, which is only useful for image playback, since the LCD isn't usable as a viewfinder. (As is the case with most SLRs.) For power, the SLR/n uses a Kodak Professional DCS Pro battery pack, or an AC adapter.

 

Design

Featuring a camera body custom-built for Kodak by Nikon, the DCS Pro SLR/n looks a lot like Nikon's high-end 35mm cameras. Measuring 5.16 x 6.22 x 3.50 inches (131 x 158 x 89 millimeters), the SLR/n is about the same size as most high-end 35mm cameras. It's noticeably larger than prosumer cameras like the Nikon D100 and Canon D60/10D, but quite a bit smaller than high-end professional models from Nikon or Canon. The SLR/n has enough heft to give it a solid feel, at two pounds five ounces (1042 grams) with memory card and battery, a good bit lighter than I'd expected. (For comparison, the Canon EOS-10D comes in just 6 ounces (170 grams) lighter.)

The front of the SLR/n features the large lens mount, which accommodates Nikon's "F" lenses. Directly to the right of the lens (as viewed from the front) is the lens release button, which unlocks the lens from the mount. Just below is the Focus selector switch, and below that is the 10-pin accessory socket (which hosts Nikon's remote control accessory), protected by a small (and easily lost) cap. In the top right corner is the PC sync terminal, protected by another tiny cap. On the opposite side of the lens is the camera's Depth of Field Preview button, nestled between the lens and hand grip. Directly above it is the AF assist lamp, which also lights when the Self-Timer is active and serves as the Red-Eye Reduction lamp as well. The camera's Sub-Command dial appears at the top of the hand grip, changing camera settings when it's turned.

The right side of the SLR/n (as viewed from the rear) shows only the secondary Shutter button, used when the camera is held vertically. - The bulge of the battery compartment that projects in front of the camera along its bottom serves as a vertical-format handgrip, but I found it rather awkward to use. It's certainly workable, but far from comfortable, with the bulge of the main handgrip forcing your middle finger lower on the body than I'd like, and making it rather a stretch for your index finger to reach the secondary shutter button.

On the opposite side of the camera are the Video and IEEE 1394 connection ports. Above these is a small battery compartment, which houses the coin cell battery used for clock/date chip backup power. The main battery slot is just below the connection jacks, and features a small latch that releases the battery from the slot.

The majority of the SLR/n's controls are the rear panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and 2.0-inch LCD monitor. A sliding diopter adjustment on the left side of the viewfinder eyepiece adjusts the optics for eyeglass wearers. Directly adjacent on the right is the Metering selector and AF/AE Lock button. The Main Command dial in the top right corner controls lens aperture and/or shutter speed when shooting, and a variety of camera settings when used in conjunction with the LCD menus system. In the center of the right side of the rear panel is a Four-Way controller, surrounded by a locking ring useful for preventing any accidental settings changes. Just above the Four-Way controller are the OK and Cancel buttons, with the Delete and Tag/Record buttons to its left. Lining the left side of the LCD monitor are the Menu, Nav+, Hotkey, and Digital Status buttons. Just above these are the Flash Mode and Auto-Exposure Bracketing buttons, in the top left corner. A monochrome status LCD just below the large LCD monitor reports specific camera information, such as white balance, JPEG quality, ISO, etc. Finally, the media compartment is in the lower right corner, protected by a hinged door that snaps firmly shut. A thumb pad on the right side makes a comfortable thumb rest when holding the camera, counterbalancing the support from the handgrip. There's also a tiny microphone just below the viewfinder eyepiece.

One of the very few cosmetic differences between the SLR/n and 14n is visible in this shot as well: The small spot in the lower right corner of the memory compartment door marks the position of a transparent window that makes the card-write activity light visible without opening the compartment cover.

On top of the SLR/n is the pop-up flash compartment, just in front of the external flash hot shoe. A button on the side of the flash compartment releases the flash, letting it spring open. On the left side of the top panel is the Exposure Mode dial, which sits on top of the Drive Mode selector. A small button beside the dials locks the Drive Mode selector in place, preventing it from slipping out of position inadvertently. Angling down towards the front of the camera, the Shutter button and Power switch are on the far right side. Just behind the Shutter button are the Flash Exposure Compensation and Exposure Compensation buttons. On the righthand side of the camera, another status display panel reports basic exposure information, with a switch for the backlight illuminator lamp directly to its right. Also visible from the top of the camera are two eyelets for attaching a neck strap. (A minor point: The neckstrap eyelets are positioned such that the camera body by itself will hang straight. With a lens of any sort attached though, the camera will tilt downward at an awkward angle. While it's obviously impossible for the camera to hang straight with larger lenses attached, regardless of the eyelet positions, I'd like to see the eyelets moved as far forward as possible, to result in better balance when relatively lightweight lenses are attached.)

The bottom of the SLR/n is pretty plain, featuring only a metal, threaded tripod mount and the bottom lip of the battery slot. A third neck strap attachment eyelet is also on the bottom panel, for use when holding the camera vertically. Thanks to the large battery compartment, the SLR/n has a very broad, flat bottom, great for secure mounting on a tripod.

Viewfinder

The SLR/n is a digital SLR, meaning that it has a true, TTL (through the lens) optical viewfinder. A digital display at the bottom of the viewfinder's image display reports the basic exposure settings, such as aperture and shutter speed, and any exposure compensation dialed in. Additionally, a variety of icons in the information display indicate various other camera settings, from metering mode to exposure mode. A set of focus brackets in the central portion of the display show the available autofocus sensors, and indicate the currently-selected AF area by glowing a dull red when the AF is active. Through the camera's Custom menu, you can turn on an alignment grid, which displays a light grey grid pattern over the subject area. The SLR/n's optical viewfinder also has a diopter adjustment switch, which adjusts the view for eyeglass wearers, although its range doesn't seem to be as wide as that of many cameras on the market, covering value from -0.8 to +1.8 diopter

 

 

The illustration above shows the exposure and other information that's reported in the viewfinder display.

The SLR/n's viewfinder presents a very wide field of view, no doubt thanks in part to the full-frame sensor and the wider frame that it calls for. One side effect though, seems to be that the eyepoint is a bit lower than I've become accustomed to on other SLRs, forcing me to press my eyeglass lenses right against the eyepiece bezel to see the full frame. - People with unusually thick eyeglass lenses my have trouble seeing all of the frame at one time.

Though not available for use as a viewfinder, the SLR/n does have a two-inch, 130,000-dot, low temperature polysilicon TFT LCD display. The LCD monitor display images while in review mode, and also provides access to the camera's settings menus. During image review, the LCD monitor offers one of four display modes, changed via a small sub-menu that appears on-screen momentarily during image review. Review modes are Single Image, Histogram, Zoom Image, and Multiple Image. Single Image mode displays only the captured image, without an information overlay. In Histogram mode, a thumbnail of the image is displayed, along with a small histogram of the image and the exposure information. Zoom Image mode lets you enlarge the current image, using the arrow keys to pan around within the expanded view. Finally, Multiple Image mode displays four thumbnails on the screen at one time.

The SLR/n's Histogram display is unusual, in that it reports extended-range exposure information, as preserved in Kodak's "ERI JPEG" (Extended Range Imaging JPEG) format. A full discussion of ERI JPEG technology is beyond the scope of this article, but it's basically a (very) clever way of recording all the information that would normally be preserved in a RAW-format image, but lost from a JPEG file. The really clever part is that ERI JPEGS can still be read just fine as normal JPEGs (minus the ERI data) by standard imaging software. The extended-range information won't be available in such programs, but they'll at least be able to read all the basic JPEG information in these files. In the SLR/n's histogram, the extended-range information appears in a grey-tinted area to the right of the standard histogram plot. (Think of this data as corresponding to "super highlights," brighter than the 100% level of the basic JPEG data, but with valid tonal data recorded in the ERI file.) Information represented by this part of the graph won't be visible in standard JPEG images, but can be recovered by using Kodak's ERI JPEG plug-in for Photoshop(tm). The shows an image with some highlight information that pushes up into the "ERI" range of the histogram.

Two smaller status LCDs are also on the SLR/n, one on top for a quick view of basic camera settings, and a second one on the back panel that reports on the camera's digital functions. The smaller digital status LCD on the back panel has a dynamic display that reports either capture-related information, review-related information, or helpful messages. Capture-related information includes explanations of the digital buttons and their shortcuts, the number of captured images on either the CF or SD/MMC card, the current aspect ratio, RAW and JPEG resolutions, white balance, and ISO. In Review mode, the display reports basic image information such as the file name and image number, as well as the folder, file format, and resolution. During camera operation, either in a menu or not, this smaller LCD also shows descriptions for menu selections or shortcut keys. (For example, it may indicate to press the right and left buttons to change one setting, and the up and down arrows for another.)

 

 

The slightly larger LCD data readout on the camera's top panel displays information about more conventional camera settings, such as shutter speed and aperture, metering modes, exposure compensation, etc. Most of the external camera controls for frequently-used functional settings work in conjunction with this display to show you the setting value you've selected.

 

Optics

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Designed for Kodak by Nikon, the Pro SLR/n features the standard Nikon F lens mount, which accommodates a wide range of Nikon and compatible third-party lenses. The mount features a mechanical AF coupling for older lenses, and AF electrical contacts for the latest AF-IF or AF-S Nikkor lenses with internal focus motors. You can thus use the SLR/n with more than 90% of all F Mount Nikkor lenses ever made. (See the camera's manual for a list of specific lenses that aren't compatible with the SLR/n.)

Functions and exposure modes available with a given lens will vary with the type of lens in use. Most recent Nikkor lenses include a microchip CPU (central processing unit) that communicates focal-distance information to the camera. This suggests that non-CPU lenses wouldn't permit the "3D matrix metering" exposure mode, since that mode relies on distance information from the lens. The loss of functionality with non-CPU lenses goes quite a bit beyond that though: Non-CPU lenses apparently provide no aperture information to the camera either. This means that you can only shoot in full manual exposure mode, the exposure meter will be disabled, and you'll also have to set the aperture manually. (Bummer.) While you therefore can indeed take pictures with most Nikkor lenses made, using older non-D lenses would be a figurative step back to the stone age. Unless you really like fully manual cameras with no internal exposure meter, plan on using D- or G-type lenses with the SLR/n.

All the above said, I can't understand why Nikon and Kodak couldn't have come up with a way for the SLR/n's exposure meter to at least remain active with non-D lenses. While the metering system is set up to meter with the lens wide open, calculating what the exposure will be when the aperture closes for the actual exposure, I can't see why it wouldn't be possible to have a metering mode that tells the camera to ignore the missing aperture information, and simply report the exposure based on the amount of light currently falling on the AE sensors. How about it Kodak/Nikon? Perhaps a feature for the next version? (I'm not holding my breath, I asked for the same capability back when I reviewed the 14n, and the SLR/n still works the same. :-(

 

Compatible Lens / Accessories
Lens / Accessories
Focus Mode
Exposure
Mode
Metering System
Autofocus
Manual with
electronic
rangefinder
Manual
Any
mode
but M
M
Matrix
Center
Weighted
Spot1
3D 10-
segment
10-
segment
CPU NIKKOR2
G-type or D-type AF NIKKOR3, AF-S,
AF-1 NIKKOR
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
-
yes
AF-I Teleconverter6
yes7
yes7
yes
yes
yes
yes
-
yes
Non-D-type AF NIKKOR, (except AF
NIKKOR for F3AF
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
-
yes
yes
AI-P NIKKOR
-
yes8
yes
yes
yes
-
yes
yes
Non-CPU NIKKOR9
AI-S or AI type NIKKOR, Series E,
AI-modified NIKKOR
-
yes
yes
-
yes
-
-
-
Medical-NIKKOR 120 mm f/4
-
yes
yes
-
yes11
-
-
-
Reflex-NIKKOR
-
-
yes
-
yes10
-
-
-
PC-NIKKOR
-
yes5
yes
-
yes10
-
-
-
AI-S or AI type Teleconverters
-
yes7
yes
-
yes10
-
-
-
Bellows Focusing Attachment PB-612
-
yes7
yes
-
yes10
-
-
-
Auto Extension Rings (PK-11A, PK-12,
PK-13 and PN-11)
-
yes7
yes
-
yes10
-
-
-

 

Legend
1 Spot Metering area can be shifted with focus area selector with CPU NIKKOR lens
2 IX-NIKKOR lenses cannot be attached
3 Camera is compatible with the Vibration Reduction function of the VR NIKKOR lens
4 Camera’s exposure metering and flash control do not work properly when shifting and/or tilting the lens or when using an aperture other than maximum aperture
5 Without shifting and/or tilting lens
6 Compatible with AF-S and AF-1 NIKKOR except AF-S 17-35 mm f/2.8 IF-ED and AF-S 28-70 mm f/2.8 D IF-ED
7 With maximum effective aperture of f/5.6 or faster
8 With maximum aperture of f/5.6 or faster
9 Some lenses/accessories cannot be attached
10 With Exposure mode set to Manual. The exposure meter cannot be used
11 With Exposure mode set to Manual and shutter speed set to 1/125 second or slower. The exposure meter cannot be used.
12 Attach the PB-6 vertically. PB-6 can be set to horizontal position after attaching
- AS-15 must be attached in combination with Medical NIKKOR 200 mm f/5.6 for the lens to fire flash
- Reprocopy Outfit PF-4 can be attached in combination with Camera Holder PA-4
- Do not attach the following accessories to the lens as they might damage parts such as the lens CPU contacts (Auto Extension Ring PK-1, PK-11, Auto Ring BR-4 and K1 Ring)

 

Incompatible Lenses and Lens Accessories
- TC-16A Teleconverter
- Non-AI lenses
- 400 mm f/4.5, 600 mm f/5.6, 800 mm f/8, and 1200 mm f/11 with
Focusing Unit AU-1
- Fisheye 6 mm f/5.6, 8 mm f/8, and OP 10 mm f/5.6
- Old type 21 mm f/4
- K2 ring
- ED 180-600 mm f/8 (No. 174041 - 174180)
- ED 360-1200 f/11 (No. 174031 - 174127)
- 200-600 mm f/9.5 (No. 280001 - 300490)
- 80 mm f/2.8, 200 mm f/3.5, and TC-16 Teleconverter for F3AF
- PC 28 mm f/4 (No. 180900 or smaller)
- PC 35 mm f/2.8 (No. 851001 - 906200)
- Old type PC 35 mm f/3.5
- Old type Reflex 1000 mm f/6.3
- Reflex 1000 mm f/11 (No. 142361 - 143000)
- Reflex 2000 mm f/11 (No. 200111 - 200310)
- PC Micro-NIKKOR 85 mm f/2.8

 

 

The SLR/n allows you to take advantage of either auto or manual focus via a small rotating control on the front of the camera, right next to the lens. Setting the switch to "M" puts the camera into manual focus mode, "S" places it in Single Servo AF (focus priority), and "C" puts it into Continuous Servo AF (release priority). Single Servo simply means that the camera sets focus only once, when the Shutter button is first pressed halfway, and is best for still objects. Continuous Servo means that the camera continuously adjusts the focus, as long as the Shutter button is halfway pressed, and is best for moving objects.

The AF Area Mode setting on the Exposure Mode dial lets you select between Single Area and Dynamic Area, both of which offer a Closest Subject Priority option. Single Area AF simply means that the camera judges focus based on one part of the subject. Dynamic AF employs all five of the autofocus brackets, or areas. The camera first focuses on the subject in the central focus area. Whenever the subject moves to a different AF area, the camera also shifts the focus to "follow" the subject. This is great for erratically moving subjects. The Closest Subject Priority option (enabled through the Custom Settings menu) means that the camera first focuses on the closest object that falls into one of the five focus areas and then tracks it as it moves. In Single Area AF mode, you can change the main focus area by unlocking the focus area selector (the four-way Arrow Rocker pad on the back panel) and then shifting the focus area using the up, down, right, or left arrow keys. Then, simply lock the focus area selection by sliding the switch back into place. By default, the SLR/n does not "wrap" the focus area selector as you scroll between focus areas. Through the Custom Settings menu, you can opt for a "Wrap" function, which hunts for the next area from top to bottom or left to right. What this means is that if you continue to press the right arrow key when the right focus area is selected, the selection will wrap around the display, jumping next to the left focus area.

There are two methods for using the AF Lock function. The first is to place the central subject in the selected focus area, halfway press the Shutter button, then realign the composition and fire the shutter. Alternatively, when using Single Servo AF, you can press the AF-L/AE-L button to lock focus (and exposure, unless set for focus only in the Custom Settings menu). Keeping this button pressed will lock focus and/or exposure, even if the Shutter button is not held down. This allows you to recompose the photograph without keeping your finger on the Shutter button, but on the AE-L/AF-L button instead. (Thereby resulting in less chance that you'll accidentally fire the shutter when you don't intend to.)

 

Exposure
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The SLR/n provides the flexible exposure control common to pro SLRs, with a wide range of features and custom settings. The Exposure Mode dial on top of the camera lets you choose between Program AE, Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority exposure modes with shutter speeds from 1/4,000 to two seconds available, as well as a Bulb setting for longer exposures. albeit only in Manual mode. (That two second maximum shutter time limitation is a parameter that really stands out relative to other pro-level digital SLRs. It appears that Kodak doesn't yet have the noise issues of their CMOS sensor sufficiently licked to permit really long exposure times.) Aperture ranges will depend on the lens in use. A nice touch is that, while in Program AE mode, you can rotate the Main Command dial to select different combinations of aperture and shutter speed settings than those initially chosen by the autoexposure system. (That is, if the automatic program would have chosen 1/125 second and f/5.6, you could instead direct the camera to use 1/60 at f/8 or 1/30 at f/11, to get greater depth of field.) This is a very handy option for those times when you need some measure of increased control, but still want the camera to do most of the work for you. In the manual exposure modes, if the camera disagrees with your exposure selections, "Hi" or "Lo" appears in the top status display panel, and an exposure meter shows by how much an image is under- or overexposed.

In any of the camera's exposure modes, except Manual, the exposure compensation adjustment lets you increase or decrease exposure in one-half-step increments from -3 to +3. (For the record, I greatly prefer having the option of a one-third step size on digital cameras, as a full half-stop adjustment is really too coarse, leaving too large a step between one exposure setting and the next.) The SLR/n offers three metering systems: Matrix / 3D Matrix, Center-Weighted, and Spot. In Matrix mode, the camera divides the image area into 10 segments and meters each one individually. The camera then examines overall brightness and the differences between the various segment readings to determine the best overall exposure for the scene. If a Nikkor D-type lens is in use, 3D Matrix metering is available. Also dividing the image into 10 segments, 3D Matrix mode not only reads brightness, but also takes into consideration scene contrast and subject distance to provide a more accurate exposure. Center-Weighted metering reads the exposure from a fairly large area around the center of the frame, while Spot metering looks at only a small point in the very center. If you're uncertain of an exposure, the SLR/n's Auto Exposure Bracketing mode captures a series of images at different exposures, bracketed around the main metered setting. Through the settings menu, you can specify a series of either two or three frames, as well as the order of capture. (For example, under/over/normal vs under/normal/over.) Exposure can vary as much as +/- 2 EV between subsequent shots.

The camera's AE/AF Lock button lets you lock exposure and/or focus without half-pressing the Shutter button. In the settings menu, you can configure the AE/AF button to lock either exposure, focus, or both.

The SLR/n features a Digital Exposure Correction (DEC for short) option through its record menu, a very unusual feature for a professional-level camera. This automatic adjustment examines the image post-exposure, and makes minor adjustments to the tone curve and color balance to produce what it thinks is a more correct overall exposure. Note though, that this doesn't correct for improper shutter speed, aperture, or ISO selections, it merely tinkers with the image data after it's acquired. For JPEG files, the change appears directly in the files themselves. Data in RAW files is not adjusted directly, although an adjustment setting is saved for optional application later, in Canon's Mac- or Windows-based image processing software. This could be a handy option when used in conjunction with the SLR/n's simultaneous dual-format RAW/JPEG file capability. The JPEG files would reflect the camera's adjustments, while the RAW files would preserve the original image data.

I didn't experiment a great deal with the SLR/n's DEC option, after having a somewhat negative experience with it while doing some night shooting at PMA in Las Vegas back when I reviewed the original 14n. Reading about the option, I decided to turn it on, but also have the camera save RAW files as I shot. I figured this would be the best of both worlds, as I'd have the benefit of DEC in the JPEGs, but still be able to revert to the RAW files if I needed to. As it turned out, it was very fortunate that I chose to also save the RAW files, as the DEC pretty much made a hash of the night-scene JPEGs. The problem was that DEC kept thinking that the shadow areas were too dark, tweaking the tone curves to boost the brightness there. Unfortunately, in the process of doing this it horribly amplified the image noise, producing incredibly blotchy shadows. I suspect this feature may work much better under daylight shooting conditions, but once bitten, I've been twice shy, and so haven't revisited it in my work with the SLR/n.

Another option, called "Look" in the settings menu, applies a tone scale/color saturation adjustment to captured images. Four adjustments are now available (up from two when I first tested the 14n): Portrait, Product, Wedding, and Event. The Portrait setting lowers contrast to improve detail in the highlights and shadows, while Product mode increases contrast and color saturation. Wedding seems to boost overall saturation, without overly affecting skin tones, to brighten colors in the image without producing blotchy skin tones. The Event look pumps up the saturation and contrast overall, without any special skin-tone handling. Just as with Digital Exposure Correction, the Look adjustment applies immediately to JPEG files. RAW files are tagged according to the Look they were captured with, and the adjustment is applied when they're viewed with Kodak's Photo Desk software.

Depending on the image file format that's selected, the SLR/n offers an ISO range from 160 to 1600. The maximum for JPEG formats (JPEG only and RAW + JPEG modes) is 800, the range extending to 1600 when only RAW format is selected. While very long shutter times (including bulb exposures) are supported by the camera body itself, sensor noise effectively limits maximum exposure times to a few seconds or less.

New since I first reviewed the 14n is a new "Longer Exposure" mode that enables very long timed exposures, with very low effective ISO values. (This feature was added to the 14n firmware back in September 2003, but this was my first encounter with it.) Longer Exposure mode makes clever use of the SLR/n's processing power to enable long time exposures with very low noise. In this mode, the camera divides the total exposure time selected into a number of shorter exposures, and then averages together the individual images. This is all invisible to the user, the effect is simply that of the camera taking a very long exposure. At the same time, dark frames are captured to subtract-out fixed pattern noise. As an example of this feature, a 2-second exposure in Longer Exposure mode consists of an initial 1/2-second dark frame, four 1/2-second exposures, and a final 1/2-second dark frame. The dark frame results are extrapolated across the total exposure time, subtracted from the captured images, and the resulting frames averaged together to produce the final result. The net of this is that the camera's effective ISO is cut, and image noise is reduced accordingly, thanks to the averaging process.

Because the camera has to capture all the images it needs and hold them in memory to perform the averaging process, only certain combinations of effective ISO and exposure time are possible. Available exposure times range from 2 to 60 seconds, with corresponding ISO values ranging from 50 down to 6. (!)

The SLR/n offers quite a bit of control over noise-reduction processing (particularly in the Photo Desk software), and is overall much more successful at reducing image noise without also losing subject detail than was the 14n. Particularly helpful is the new "Expert" noise-reduction mode in the Photo Desk software, which more aggressively attacks the chrominance components of image noise, without losing too much luminance data. This seems to do a pretty good job at knocking out image noise without losing fine detail, although I still evidence of lost detail in portions of images having subtle contrast. (In my test shots, this phenomena is visible in some areas of Marti's hair in the Outdoor and Indoor Portrait shots, and in the clumps of pine needles in the Far-Field test image.)

White balance options on the SLR/n include Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Flash presets, and a Click Balance (manual) setting. Within each of the presets, you have a handful of options. For example, the Daylight setting offers Standard, Warm, and Cool settings, and the Flash preset offers Standard, Warm, Cool, and Studio options. The Click Balance option analyzes the RGB values from the most recently captured image, or a saved image, and applies them to the next image captured. Thus, you can snap an image of a gray card under specific lighting, and then apply that color balance to each subsequent image. Once you've selected Click Balance, an eyedropper appears over the image, letting you pick the specific area you want to use as your white balance reference.

A particularly nice touch on the SLR/n is the degree of precision with which you can select white- or gray-point references for determining color balance. You can zoom in on the image on the LCD screen and move the selection eyedropper with the arrow keys to sample a specific part of the frame. (See the illustration at right for an example, with an image zoomed way in on the LCD screen.) This is a great feature, making it easy to zoom in on just a part of the subject to select your white/gray reference point. (Other manufacturers should take note of this feature, it greatly expands the usefulness of the manual white balance option.)

The SLR/n also features a Sharpness adjustment, with settings of None, Low, Medium, and High available on the camera. These settings are applied directly to JPEG image files, but once again are simply saved as tags in the RAW-format (DCR) files. Tagged DCR files are automatically processed using the selected sharpening setting whenever JPEG or TIFF files are extracted from them with Kodak's Photo Desk software. The sharpening tool in Photo Desk offers good control, although it lacks an effective on-screen preview of the results of your settings, making it awkward to work with interactively. - See the subsequent software section of this review for more detail on Photo Desk's options and control panels.

A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay once the Shutter button is pressed, giving you time to run around in front of the camera before the exposure.

File Format Issues
I observed in my review of the Pro 14n that the DCR and JPEG file formats were definitely not equal partners in the camera's design and workflow, the in-camera JPEG coming in a distant second for image quality relative to JPEG or TIFF files generated with the Photo Desk software. With the SLR/n, Kodak has made great strides with the in-camera JPEG, to the extent that it now seems eminently usable. For critical work, Photo Desk still gives you much greater control over a variety of parameters, but the SLR/n's in-camera JPEGs are now usable. (Kodak's easy firmware upgrades and regular schedule of updates deserves comment here again. - The improvements seen in the SLR/n in-camera JPEGs are also available to 14n owners, at no cost other than the few minutes required to download and install the latest firmware upgrade.)

 

Flash

17 meters at ISO 200, translating to a maximum range of 6.1 meters (19.7 feet) at f/2.8 and ISO 200. (By my calculations, this translates to a range of roughly 5.5 meters at f/2.8 and the camera's minimum ISO of 160.)

The SLR/n features a built-in, pop-up flash unit with a guide number of 17 meters (55 feet) at ISO 200. For a standard f/2.8 lens, this would translate into a flash range of roughly 6.1 meters (19.7 feet) at f/2.8 and ISO 200. (Note that the different spec for flash guide number for the SLR/n vs that for the 14n doesn't constitute any increase in power. It's the same flash, it's just that the SLR/n's minimum ISO is 160, so a rating at ISO 100 (as with the 14n) doesn't make sense. A guide number of 17 meters at ISO 200 is the same as a rating of 12 meters at ISO 100.) Depending on the lens in use, the internal flash offers D-TTL metering control in three modes: 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash for Digital SLR, Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash for Digital SLR, and Standard TTL Flash for Digital SLR. With 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash metering (Type G or D CPU lenses), the flash balances the exposure based on readings from the 3D Matrix Metering system. The built-in flash operates in either Front-Curtain Sync, Slow Sync, Rear-Curtain Sync, Red-Eye Reduction, or Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync modes. A Flash Exposure Compensation adjustment controls flash intensity, adjusting it from -3 to +1 EV in one-half-step increments.

For connecting more powerful flash units, the SLR/n also features an external flash hot-shoe as well as a PC sync terminal. The same D-TTL flash metering modes are available, depending on the type of lens and speedlight connected to the camera, and the full range of flash sync modes are available as well.

The hot shoe on top of the SLR/n accepts standard Nikon speedlights, and the camera offers full D-TTL autoexposure capability with the SB-80DX, SB-28DX, and SB-800 AF models. (The SB-50DX also supports full D-TTL exposure, but not some of the other modes such as Auto Aperture or Non-TTL Auto that the others do.)

Continuous Shooting

Through the camera's Drive setting, the SLR/n features a Continuous Shooting mode that captures a series of images for as long as the Shutter button is held down. The manual claimed a frame rate of 1.7 frames/second, but brief tests of my own showed a maximum rate of closer to 1.6 fps. (I'll update my measurements of the camera's timing after I return from the PMA show and have a little more time to spend with it.) Actual frame rates will vary, depending on the JPEG compression and image resolution settings, and the number of images in the series will depend on the amount of available memory space. The SLR/n does appear to have a larger buffer memory than the 14n did though, as it can capture up to 18 full-resolution frames in rapid succession in RAW mode, and up to 16 frames of maximum-resolution JPEGs.

Sound

The SLR/n also lets you record short clips of sound to accompany captured images. The manual doesn't specify how long you can record sound, but I can confirm that the limit is something greater than a minute, as I successfully recorded for at least that long.

Variable Cropping Ratios
An unusual feature of the SLR/n is it's provision for a variety of different cropping aspect ratios. "Aspect ratio" is simply the ratio between the length and width of the image. Common examples are the 2x3 ratio of conventional 35mm film (making 4x6 prints a perfect fit), the 4x3 ratio of computer screens and most consumer digicams, etc. The Pro SLR/n offers aspect ratios of 2x3, 4x5, and 2x2. Like many other exposure parameters, the crop aspect ratio setting applies directly to JPEG images created in the camera, but only exists as a "tag" on RAW-format DCR files. With DCR files, the full sensor information is saved in the file, regardless of the crop ratio selected, but the chosen crop ratio is recorded in the file header. The crop is applied when the images are opened in the Photo Desk application, and the crop can also be changed at that point as well.

 

Shutter Lag / Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is only rarely reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I now routinely measure it.

 (I've not yet had time to run my normal timing tests on the SLR/n. I'll perform full tests and post the results after I return from the PMA show. - I can say though, that some of the buffer space limitations of the 14n have been corrected, although the buffer capacity is still only 5 frames when saving RAW + JPEG files, only one frame better than the 14n in that mode.)

 

Operation and User Interface Anyone already familiar with Nikon 35mm SLRs should feel at home with the SLR/n's user interface, which is very similar. The dials and control buttons that affect basic camera operation are very similar to those of many 35mm models, with only the portions relating to digital operation presenting a learning curve to be climbed. The SLR/n's combination of external dials and controls make it quick and easy to change most of the camera's primary exposure settings without delving into the LCD menu. The LCD menu itself is quite large, but is divided into four subject tabs for simpler navigation. I personally wasn't too keen on the layout of the SLR/n's LCD menu system, feeling it to be somewhat cumbersome to navigate. On a positive note though, you can select up to five functions for rapid access via the "hotkey" on the SLR/n, providing shortcuts to LCD menu functions, as well as to functions shown on the smaller status display on the camera's rear panel. I didn't shoot with the SLR/n long enough for the menu system to become completely intuitive, but did find that the hotkey function made a big difference in how easy it was to use.


Depth of Field Preview Button
: Nestled between the hand grip and lens on the camera's front panel, this button stops down the lens aperture to the value you've selected, so you can preview the depth of field through the camera's viewfinder.


Lens Release Button
: On the opposite side of the lens, this button unlocks the lens, allowing it to be rotated and removed from its mount.


Focus Selector
: Directly below the Lens Release button, this selector dial controls the main focus mode. Positions are Manual, Single, and Continuous.


Sub-Command Dial
: Located at the top of the hand grip, on the front of the camera, this dial controls a variety of camera settings when turned while pressing a control button.


Shutter Button
: Angling down from the camera's top panel, just over the hand grip, this button sets focus and/or exposure when halfway pressed. It releases the shutter when fully pressed.


Power Switch
: Surrounding the Shutter button on the top panel, this switch turns the camera on or off.


Exposure Compensation Button
: Behind the Shutter button on the top panel, this button adjusts the exposure from -3 to +3 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-half-step increments when pressed while turning the Main Command dial. Pressing this button together with the Auto-Exposure Bracketing button resets all of the camera settings to their factory defaults.


Flash Exposure Compensation Button
: To the right of the Exposure Compensation button, this button adjusts the flash exposure compensation from -3 to +1 EV in one-half-step increments when held down while turning the Main Command dial.


LCD Illuminator Button
: On the right side of the top status display panel, this button illuminates the LCD status displays briefly when pressed.


Flash Head Release Button
: On the left side of the pop-up flash compartment (as viewed from the rear), this button releases the flash from its compartment.


Drive Mode Selector Lock Button
: Located in the far left corner of the top panel, this button locks or unlocks the Drive Mode Selector.


Drive Mode Selector
: On the left side of the camera's top panel, this dial selects the camera's drive mode. Options are Single, Continuous, Self-Timer, or Lock Exposure (this last locks the exposure settings so that they cannot be changed).


Exposure Mode Dial
: Sitting directly on top of the Drive Mode Selector, this dial sets the camera's exposure mode. Choices are Program (P), Shutter Priority (S), Aperture Priority (A), or Manual (M). The dial also accesses the camera's ISO and AF Area Mode settings.


Auto-Exposure Bracketing Button
: In the top left corner of the camera's rear panel, just below the Exposure Mode dial and Drive Mode Selector, this button activates the camera's Auto-Exposure Bracketing mode when pressed while turning the Main Command dial. Pressing this button while turning the Sub-Command dial changes the bracket step size, the number of frames in the series, and the order that shots are taken in, cycling through a series of configurations involving various combinations of those parameters. Pressing this button in conjunction with the Exposure Compensation button resets the camera's settings.


Flash Sync Mode Button
: Adjacent on the right to the Auto Exposure Bracketing button, this button controls the operating mode of the built-in flash. Pressing the button while rotating the Sub-Command dial cycles through Front-Curtain Sync, Slow Sync, Rear-Curtain Sync, Red-Eye Reduction, and Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync modes.


Menu Button
: The topmost button in a series lining the left side of the LCD monitor, this button displays the settings menus and activates the LCD display. This button also cancels the menu display.


Nav+ Button
: Beneath the Menu button, this button activates the LCD and displays the last-accessed image, with a small Image Mode menu overlay that lets you choose the type of playback display you want. (Normal, index, histogram, or zoomed.) During image review, this button changes the action of the arrow keys. With this button held down, the up/down arrow keys jump between image folders, while the left/right arrow keys jump 10 images forward or backward on the memory card.


Hotkey Button
: Just below the Nav+ button, this button can be customized as a shortcut key to menu functions. When pressed, it activates the LCD display with a highlight over the shortcut function, so you can quickly change a setting. Pressing the left or right arrow keys while this button is held down cycles through the programmed hotkey shortcuts. (The manual says the top or bottom keys, but on my prototype unit, it was the left/right keys that cycled through the shortcuts.)


Digital Status Button
: The final button in the series lining the left side of the LCD monitor, this button highlights the last-used function on the digital status LCD screen, as well as its associated menu option on the larger LCD monitor. Holding down the button while pressing the right or left arrow keys cycles through the different functions shown on the digital status display beneath the main LCD monitor.


Delete Button
: Adjacent to the right side of the LCD monitor, this button displays the image erase menu, allowing you to delete images from the memory card.


Tag/Record Button
: Below the Delete button, this button displays the Tag menu when pressed quickly and released. (The Tag menu lets you tag recorded images for printing or a number of other post-capture operations within the Kodak DCS Photo Desk software. Pressing and holding this button for more than one second enables an audio record mode, which records short sound clips to accompany captured images.


OK Button
: Just above the Four-Way controller on the back panel, this button confirms menu selections. Pressing this button while the LCD monitor is inactive turns it on and displays the most recently captured image, with a small Image Mode menu overlay that lets you choose the type of playback display you want. (Normal, index, histogram, or zoomed.)


Cancel Button
: Below the OK button, this button cancels menu selections and backs out of menu screens. It's also generally how you turn off the main LCD display when you're finished using it.


Four-Way Controller
: Dominating the right side of the camera's back panel, this rocker-toggle button features four arrow keys. In any settings menu, these buttons navigate through menu selections. In image review mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images on the memory card. When the LCD monitor is powered off, the arrow keys let you select the AF area.

Four-Way Controller Lock Switch: Surrounding the Four-Way controller, this rotating ring locks the controller and prevents it from making any adjustments.


Main Command Dial
: Located in the top right corner of the rear panel, this dial adjusts a variety of camera settings, when turned while holding down various control buttons. In Aperture Priority and Shutter Speed Priority modes, this dial sets either the aperture or shutter speed settings. In Manual exposure mode, the dial sets the shutter speed.


Metering System Selector
: To the right of the viewfinder eyepiece on the rear panel, this dial sets the camera's metering mode to 3D Matrix, Center-Weighted, or Spot modes.

AE/AF Lock Button: In the center of the Metering System Selector, this button locks focus or exposure for one shot.


Vertical Shutter Release Button
: Located on the bottom of the right side of the camera (when looking at the back panel), this Shutter button can be used when shooting vertically. It's indented slightly to prevent it from being accidentally pressed during normal use. NOTE that the vertical release is also disabled by default. It can be enabled via the camera's setup menu.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Shooting Mode: Turning the on camera automatically places it into Shooting mode. The Exposure Mode dial lets you select Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or Manual exposure modes. (A Flexible Program mode is accessed by turning the Sub-Command dial in Program AE mode. Flexible Program mode lets you choose different combinations of aperture and shutter speed, to control depth of field or motion blur, while still maintaining the convenience of automatic exposure control.) Depending on the exposure mode selected, the user has as much or as little control over exposure as needed.

Image Review Mode: Accessed by selecting an image folder and then an image review mode through the menu, this mode lets you review captured images on the memory card. Images can be erased or displayed with a variety of information screens. When the LCD monitor is disabled, pressing the OK or Nav+ buttons activates the display, along with a short menu. (Pressing the up or down arrow key will cycle through these modes. If the menu isn't displayed, pressing the up or down keys in playback mode recalls it.):

Camera Menu:

 

Review Menu:

 

Image Menu:

Setup Menu:

Custom Menu:

Image Storage and Interface

The SLR/n stores images on either CompactFlash (Type I or II) or SD/MMC cards, and is compatible with the Hitachi MicroDrive, and memory cards larger than 2 GB, thanks to its support of the FAT32 file system. It offers an unusual degree of flexibility in its use of the two card slots. Through the settings menu, you can choose to store either RAW or JPEG files, or both, to either the CF or SD/MMC cards, or to both simultaneously. For instance, you can save a RAW file plus a JPEG copy of the image, both to the CF card. Or, you can save only the RAW file to the CF card, and the JPEG copy to the SC/MMC slot. Or both RAW and JPEG to both CF and SD/MMC for complete redundancy between the cards.

For each memory card, the SLR/n gives you the ability to manage image folders and assign specific names. You can even track a series of images with the Job Tracker function, which lets you mark all images associated with a certain event, date, etc, writing IPTC-compatible data into the files' header blocks. Individual images can be write-protected through the Image Review menu, which prevents them from being accidentally erased (except by card formatting), and can also be "tagged" to mark them for subsequent processing in Kodak's Photo Desk Pro software. The camera's Card Format option offers a Quick and Full Format, as well as a Recovery option to get back accidentally deleted files.

Four image resolutions are available: 4,500 x 3,000; 3,000 x 2,000; 2,250 x 1,500; or 1,125 x 750 pixels, with JPEG compression levels of Good, Better, and Best. RAW images can be saved at 4,500 x 3,000; 3,000 x 2,000; or 2,250 x 1,500-pixel resolutions. To mimic common film sizes, the SLR/n features a Crop Aspect adjustment for 2 x 3, 4 x 5, or 2 x 2 aspect ratios.

The Pro SLR/n doesn't ship with a memory card, but you're going to want a *really* big card to use with it: Its RAW and JPEG files are both enormous. (The SLR/n's JPEG files can optionally carry the Extended Range Imaging (ERI) data, which makes them about 30% larger than ordinary JPEG files of the same resolution and compression ratio.) Personally, I'd recommend that you not consider cards any smaller than 512MB for use with the SLR/n, and even larger cards would definitely be welcome. (I'll have my usual table of file sizes and compression ratios here after I return from PMA.)

 (The prototype unit I tested may not have had the JPEG parameters set properly for the smallest image size, given that the "better" and "good" settings for that resolution produced almost identical final file sizes.)

 

 

Video Out
The SLR/n is equipped with a Video Out terminal, and comes with a video cable for connection to a television set or VCR. This allows images to be played back on the TV screen and recorded to video tape, with all the menu options available on the video screen. A setting in the Setup menu sets the video timing to either NTSC or PAL.

 

Power
The SLR/n uses either a custom LiIon battery pack or the AC adapter for power. For some reason, Kodak doesn't show any capacity listing in mAh on the SLR/n battery packs, only a voltage (7.4v). Whatever their rated capacity though, they were quickly exhausted in the SLR/n's predecessor, the 14n. The good news is that the SLR/n's power management is greatly improved, with the result that packs in my test sample were good for literally hundreds of images before running out.

Here again, I didn't have time to complete my exhaustive tests of the SLR/n prior to the PMA show: I'll revisit this review after the show, and fill-in the power data along with other missing performance measurements.

 

Included Software
The SLR/n ships with Kodak Professional DSC Camera Manager software, which provides minor image editing and management capabilities. Also included is Kodak Professional DSC Photo Desk, for processing RAW files, and the Kodak Professional Extended Range Imaging File Format Module, for opening ERI JPEG files. An IEEE-1394 connector jack provides high-speed connection to a computer for downloading files.

The Photo Desk software is a pretty key component of the overall Pro SLR/n package, so I plan to come back to this review fairly soon, to add a complete description of its operation. The program has an excellent user interface (once you get used to it), making it very easy to quickly review and batch-process RAW image files, a key focus of Kodak's camera development. - Kodak's RAW files consistently capture more data in extreme highlight regions, that can be brought back by adjusting the tonal rendition after the fact in Photo Desk. Many camera makers offer RAW-format output files from their cameras, but few if any do as good a job at preserving dynamic range as do those from Kodak.

 

In the Box
Retail-boxed versions of the Pro SLR/n ship in the US with the following accessories included:


Test Results

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the SLR/n with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

I haven't had time to subject the SLR/n to the full battery of my tests, nor to prepare the kind if detailed analysis that I'd like to give and that such an important camera deserves. Both will have to wait until I return from PMA, but hopefully will be up soon after. In the meantime, here's a thumbnail sketch of what I've found thus far:

Resolution
Like the 14n before it, the SLR/n definitely wins the resolution derby, at least among handheld, "35mm format" SLRs. With a resolution that tops out at about 2100 lines/picture height both vertically and horizontally, it edges out Canon's EOS-1Ds for top honors in the resolution category. That said, the SLR/n does show more artifacts in the res target image as you get to very high spatial frequencies, although this doesn't seem to affect its images of natural objects too strongly. (As I noted in my Pro 14n review, some of the camera's exceptional sharpness derives from Kodak's decision to leave out the antialiasing (lowpass) filter, which had the (not unexpected) effect of producing artifacts such as jaggies and color aliasing in areas of very high detail)

Kodak does offer special anti-moire processing in its Photo Desk software, but I found it only partially successful at removing color "twinkles" around fine, high-contrast detail. I personally would much prefer to have an antialias filter and give up some of the cutting edge of sharpness, if it would mean losing the camera's tendency to produce color artifacts. Others may well choose differently though: I'm reminded of the response of many of my readers to the Sigma SD-9 SLR, which also lacked an antialias filter. I personally found that camera's jaggies and tendency toward luminance moire unacceptable, but many people don't seem to be bothered by it, instead exclaiming over the unusual sharpness of its images. I strongly suspect that the SLR/n will find a similar response among prospective owners.

Thanks to the improvements in noise coming off the sensor and through the analog electronics, the SLR/n seems to do much better with low-contrast detail than did the 14n. It still isn't hard though, to find areas in which its images look more like watercolor paintings than digital photos though. - Check the clumps of pine needles in my Far-Field test shot, for instance, or areas in Marti's hair as described on the preliminary picture-analysis page. The extent of the effect is much less than it was with the 14n, but there still remains a fair bit of room for improvement.

Color
Overall, I think the SLR/n deserves a rating of "excellent" for its color handling, as too my eye, it really nailed the subject color in just about every instance. (It got a bit too much purple in the always-difficult blue flowers of the Outdoor Portrait test, but everything else was pretty much spot-on.) I particularly like the range of "Looks" that Kodak provides, letting you choose more saturation for product images and the like, but less saturation (with particular attention to skin tones) in the Portrait mode. I felt too, that it did a particularly good job under incandescent lighting, a very tough light source for most digicams.

I processed all my images through Photo Desk to get the best JPEG quality, making some white balance adjustments in the process, so some of the excellent white balance performance is the result of manual tweaking, and as such could be said to not be representative of the camera itself. - But part of the story of the SLR/n is how easy it is to quickly crank through a large number of images, making small tweaks to exposure and color balance along the way. As practical tools for professional photographers, the SLR/n and the latest version of Photo Desk make a very effective combination. I'd ordinarily give negative marks for a camera that required some level of image-tweaking post-exposure, but the amount required by the SLR/n is pretty minimal, and the process to apply it is pretty fast and painless. For a professional camera like the SLR/n and 1Ds, color rendition is possibly less important than it is in consumer-level cameras, simply because pros are much more likely to employ some sort of a color-managed workflow. Both cameras seemed very well-behaved (that is, consistent) in their color handling, and both support color spaces with wide gamuts that are well suited to use in color-managed environments.

Exposure and Tonality
The SLR/n behaved very well in my testing, handling a wide range of exposure conditions with aplomb. Its exposure system responded similarly to those of other D-SLRs I've tested to my standardized subjects, actually doing somewhat better than average with the deliberately harsh lighting of the Outdoor Portrait test. It did a good job of holding onto highlight detail, and the Kodak DCR RAW file format and the associated ERI JPEG format have a surprising amount of "headroom" in them for pulling back highlight detail. (Much more so than most other RAW file formats I've encountered, which (truth be told) actually preserve precious little highlight information beyond that which is present in the JPEG files anyway.)

Tonality on the SLR/n generally seemed to be pretty good. Its native contrast level struck me as about right for general shooting, and its "Portrait Look" setting further reduces contrast to preserve more subtle tonal gradations. I'd like to see more options for control over the camera's basic tone curve, but the default camera behavior isn't too bad as a starting point, and the tools within the Photo Desk software should let you do pretty much anything you want with the RAW-format image files.


Image Noise
As with the 14n before it, image noise in the SLR/n is a little hard to discuss in objective, quantifiable terms, simply because so much of the camera's performance in this area is a function of how the images are post-processed in the Photo Desk software application. Furthermore, it's very much up to the photographer to choose how he/she wants to make the tradeoff between image noise and detail in areas of low subject contrast.

The issue has to do with how short-exposure noise reduction algorithms work in general, and how those employed by Kodak work in particular. The approach involved is to look at image contrast within a local area of the image, and make an assessment as to whether the inter-pixel variations are due to noise or to subject detail. The general idea is that variations below a certain magnitude, and involving areas smaller than a certain minimum size, are considered to be noise. If the camera thinks its seeing noise in an area where it believes there isn't any significant subject detail, it "flattens" the image, reducing the inter-pixel variations.

If the original scene at that point consisted of a flat patch of color or tone (a blank wall, MacBeth(tm) target swatch, etc.), this approach works very well: It reduces the image noise without any apparent side effects. On the other hand, of there's a lot going on in the subject at that point (res target patterns, lots of fine, contrasty subject detail), chances are the noise won't be noticeable anyway, so leaving the image alone lets the viewer see the subject detail without them being aware of the image noise overlaid on it.

The problem comes when you have significant subject detail with relatively low contrast between scene elements. In such situations, depending on where the thresholds are set for discriminating noise, the noise-reduction processing can turn into detail-reducing processing. This is what happened with the SLR/n in dealing with the detail in Marti's hair in the studio portrait shot and with the inner detail in the clumps of pine needles on the Far Field shot.

You can also see the SLR/n's noise processing "backing off" as it gets to an area of strong subject contrast, by looking around the edges of the color swatches on the MacBeth chart in the Davebox shots. There, you can see "fuzz" around the edges of the color swatches, which is the underlying sensor noise showing through. What happened is that the high-contrast edge with the black surround of the color swatch told the camera that there was strong subject detail in the area, so it needed to back off on the noise processing to preserve the subject information.

Properly setting the parameters for this sort of noise reduction processing is a ticklish and time-consuming business, as it's a matter of constant tradeoffs and experimentation. This is an area to which Kodak has devoted considerable effort since the introduction of the original 14n, and they happily seem to have had some success. The "Expert" noise reduction mode in the latest release of Kodak's Photo Desk software does a better job of suppressing noise while holding onto image detail than we've seen in the past. While the SLR/n's images are greatly improved over those of the 14n though, there's still room for improvement, as witness the examples of detail in hair and pine needles mentioned above.

Night/ High ISO Shots
I haven't yet run the SLR/n through my low light tests, but can say that there does indeed appear to be a fair bit of improvement over the 14n in this area. With the 14n, I felt that the ISO 400 option really wasn't usable, but the SLR/n's images looked much better at that point. Stay tuned, I'll update this section after I get back from PMA and have a chance to run a full range of low light tests on the SLR/n.

Shutter lag and cycle time/general responsiveness
Here again, I need to run more tests once I'm back from PMA, but the SLR/n appears to be a pretty responsive camera overall. Its buffer memory capacity is greatly expanded in RAW and JPEG modes, although RAW+JPEG burst capacity is still a paltry 5 frames. Still, while I like the RAW+JPEG mode myself, I have to admit that the speed and fluidity of the Photo Desk interface makes shooting entirely in RAW mode a very reasonable option. - And the 18-frame buffer capacity in RAW mode is excellent by any standard.

Battery Life
Battery life is one of the areas where the differences between the SLR/n and 14n are most obvious. The 14n approached legendary status in its voracious appetite for battery power, but the SLR/n in contrast does pretty well. I'd still strongly recommend having at least two batteries for the SLR/n if you're planning on serious shooting, more if you'll be away from a power outlet for an extended period. The nice thing about the SLR/n though, is that you can leave it sitting idle but powered-on, without incurring any significant battery drain.

 

Conclusion
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It's no secret that I wasn't a particular fan of the original Pro 14n, as I felt that its problems with image noise prevented it from fully delivering on the promise of its huge 13.5 megapixel sensor. Likewise, its usable ISO range was so restricted as to render it all but useless outside the studio under anything but bright daylight. As I've noted throughout this review, I still think that the SLR/n has some room for improvement in sensor noise. Overall though, the strides made by Kodak in attacking sensor and signal-conditioning noise have had a significant impact, to the extent that the SLR/n is in many ways the camera the 14n aspired to be. More to the point, the SLR/n is now a camera that can stand on its merits against its principal competition, the Canon EOS-1Ds. There will clearly still be applications in which the 1Ds will carry the day, despite its much higher price tag, but it's no longer a slam-dunk in the 1Ds' favor. The SLR/n now gives the 1Ds a very credible run for the money, with strengths of its own to counter those of the Canon model. If you're in the market for a full-frame D-SLR, the Kodak SLR/n clearly deserves careful consideration.

Note: Stay tuned, update coming:
As I've noted throughout this review, I was too crunched on time prior to the PMA show to run the SLR/n production model I received through my full battery of tests and measurements. I did want to get as much information out on the camera as possible though (particularly in the form of sample images), since it constitutes such a significant improvement over the 14n in so many areas. Stay tuned though, as I should have an update to this review completed within a week or two of my return (say, by early March), in which I'll give full details for all performance parameters.

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